LAMPEDUSA, Italy: The Italian island of Lampedusa, where up to 300 people were feared dead in a migrant boat disaster Thursday, is one of the biggest entry points for asylum-seekers into the European Union.
Thousands arrive every year from impoverished and conflict-riven parts of Africa and the Middle East, often in perilous journeys on dilapidated and overcrowded wooden fishing boats.
Here are a few key facts about the island:
Location: The island is 138 kilometers from the coast of Tunisia and 215 kilometers from Sicily, meaning it is closer to North Africa than to Italy.
Size: Lampedusa measures around 20 square kilometers and is a picturesque marine sanctuary well known for its loggerhead sea turtles.
Population: The local resident population is only around 6,000 people, most of them employed in the fishing sector and tourism in the summer months.
Arab Spring: Fifty thousand migrants and refugees landed on Lampedusa at the height of the revolts in North Africa in 2011 – most of them from sub-Saharan Africa.
Deaths: The U.N. estimates 20,000 people have died trying to cross to Europe since the late 1990s.
Departure points: Most of the boats are coming from Libya, where the security situation remains fragile, and the rest come mostly from Tunisia.
Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta has urged Libya to reinforce its maritime border controls and Italy is assisting the security forces there to step up checks along its land border.
Countries of origin: Many of the recent arrivals come from autocratic Eritrea and war-torn Somalia and Syria, with others also from Afghanistan, Egypt, Gambia, Mali, Nigeria and Pakistan.
Shelter: New arrivals are housed in an immigration center that only has 250 beds that campaigners complain is often badly overcrowded and has unsanitary conditions.
They are then moved by ferry or plane to other parts of Italy to immigrant detention centers to be deported or to refugee centres if they have made asylum requests.
Island aid: Locals have repeatedly rallied to help in desperate situations like in May 2011 when they rescued 528 people from a boat that crashed off shore. The local authorities complain they do not receive enough assistance from the government.